For those of you living in the depths of winter right now, there is a very high chance you are not getting enough Vitamin D.

If you live in a northern climate or work inside, you are very likely deficient in this unbelievably important vitamin. I speak from experience, having lived in the UK for so many years. I was very Vitamin D deficient (despite taking the highest quality supplements), and I am not the only one.

According to Chris Kresser: “A recent consensus panel estimated that about 50 – 60 percent of older individuals in North America and the rest of the world do not have satisfactory vitamin D status, and the situation is similar for younger individuals. Blood levels of vitamin D lower than 20 to 30 nanograms per milliliter have been associated with falls, fractures, cancer, autoimmune dysfunction, cardiovascular disease and hypertension.”

This means that means HALF of all people around the world are deficient in vitamin D and therefore at increased risk for serious and potentially fatal conditions.

Vitamin D is produced by cholesterol in the skin when in contact with UVB sunlight. Yet another reason to appreciate cholesterol and its important role in the body, and to appreciate sunshine and its vital role in our health. And yet most people are both afraid of cholesterol AND of going out in the sun without slathering themselves in sunscreen. Incidentally, sunscreen blocks ALL the UVB light from the skin and allows no Vit D to be produced. Not to mention all the other reasons most sunscreens are pretty terrible for you and your skin.

I’m not suggesting getting burnt – burning the skin is NOT healthy. But I am suggesting not being afraid to get some direct sunshine on non-sunscreen-slathered skin every day.

“Both cholesterol and sulfur afford protection in the skin from radiation damage to the cell’s DNA, the kind of damage that can lead to skin cancer. Cholesterol and sulfur become oxidized upon exposure to the high frequency rays in sunlight, thus acting as antioxidants to “take the heat,” so to speak. Oxidation of cholesterol is the first step in the process by which cholesterol transforms itself into vitamin D3.” – source.
So we actually have a natural protection built in to our skin.

So, what is the best time of day to get this sun exposure?

Most people will tell you that morning and late afternoon are the “safest times” to sunbathe. This is because UVA rays (those that are responsible for burning) are highest at these times and UVB rays are lowest or non-existant. The problem with this is that it is UVB rays that are also responsible for Vitamin D production.
Whilst UVA rays do not readily burn the skin, they penetrate far deeper than UVB rays and are the rays implicated in skin damage which leads to melanoma and DNA damage. These rays also break down Vitamin D, so without the balance of UVB rays, you are actually losing Vitamin D. And since UVA rays do not burn the skin, we get little indication that we are getting too much sun.

We are meant to get a balance of UVA AND UVB rays together. This means ideally getting some mid-day sunshine every day. For most people this can be as little as 15 minutes of direct exposure, but this depends on many variables. Obviously, in northern climates, where the sun is weaker, longer periods may be necessary. Also, if you are overweight you will not be as equipped to make and absorb vitamin D, so longer periods will be required.

Luckily our bodies are very well equipped to telling us when we’ve had enough. Tanning is a protective mechanism, but beyond that, burning tells us we have over-done it.

So, try to get outside every single day, preferably at noon.

How to naturally protect our skin from sunburn

  • Get enough Vitamin D! This is almost a chicken and egg situation, but adequate levels of Vitamin D have been shown to protect the skin against sun damage.
  • Eat foods that contain Lycopene (found in tomatoes). This has been shown to protect the skin against sun damage.
  • Cut down on Omega 6 fatty acids and make sure you’re getting plenty of Omega 3 fatty acids. A recent study showed that people with higher levels of DHA and EPA had the least “cutaneous p53 expression” which has been linked to melanoma. We should also know by now that we should be striving for as close a ratio of Omega 3:6 as possible.
  • Eat plenty of saturated fat. This study showed that a diet higher in saturated fats was protective whereas a diet high in PUFAs (Polyunsaturated fats) was not.
  • Drink green tea. In addition to it’s high anti-oxidant content, the polyphenols in tea have been shown to inhibit the development of skin tumors.
  • Read more here.

    Is it possible to get Vit D from anything other than sunshine?

    Whilst sunshine is by far the best way for the body to get Vit D, it is possible to get it through animal foods such as herring, duck eggs, bluefin tuna, trout, eel, mackerel, sardines, chicken eggs, beef liver and pork. A good fermented cod liver oil like this one is also a decent option.

    So, if you get nothing else from this post, please understand the following: Vit D is ESSENTIAL, and in order to optimise our Vit D levels, we need to be exposed to direct sunshine. And in order to be able to make Vit D from that sunshine, we need to have adequate levels of cholesterol!

    Some further reading:

    Let a Little Sunshine In

    Why Vitamin D Supplements Can’t Replace Sunshine

    Wait.. What? Sunlight Prevents Cancer?

    How to Engineer a Successful Day of Sunbathing

    Natural Homemade Sunscreen Recipe